The fort was built under orders of William the Silent and completed in 1593. It was constructed in the design of a star fort with a network of canals and lakes which were used as moats. At the time of its completion, the fort housed five garrisons. Soon after its construction, Spanish forces from Groningen besieged it, though the attack ended in failure.
Its original purpose was to control the only road between Germany and the city of Groningen, which was controlled by the Spaniards during the time of the Eighty Years’ War.
After experiencing its final battle in 1672, the Fort continued to serve in the defensive network on the German border until it was finally given up in 1851 and converted into a village. Fort Bourtange currently serves as a historical museum.